Tag Archives: helmet

Ear plugs

I recently purchased a new AGV helmet. I’m either a sucker for propaganda, or acutely aware of the diminishing performance a helmet gives with the passing of time. Back in my younger days, where riding the motorbike was a daily occurrence, I tended to replace my helmets every couple of years to avoid the problem of compressing the lining. These days, I am more of a “weekend warrior” and hence only feel the need to replace the helmet after about five years.

I don’t think I will ever be the sort of person who purchases a helmet on-line. I need to know that it will fit well and that things like the chin strap can be easily tucked away. Things you can only really tell by examining and wearing the helmet. The consequences of picking the wrong one on-line deter me from doing so!

Even though I prefer the “real life” selection process, the one question that always remains unanswered is: “Will this helmet be quiet?” I suspect I shouldn’t bother asking as the honest answer will always be “no”. It occurred to me as I was riding to the bike shop (to purchase “the new lid”) that when I first purchased my previous helmet, I found it disappointingly loud. However, on the trip I was taking to replace it, I didn’t think it was too bad. One could hope that as the helmet lining had compressed, it somehow improved its acoustic dampening, but I rather suspect years of ear abuse wearing the previous helmet has simply taken its toll on my hearing.

To over-simplify sound, its loudness is measured in decibels. db(A) This scale is logarithmic – as an example: an eighty decibel noise is ten times as loud as a seventy decibel noise. According to the dangerous decibels web-site once a sound reaches 85dB(A), permanent hearing damage can occur. The key thing then becomes how long you are exposed to the loud noise. For every 3dB(A) over 85, safe exposure times halve. (As a point of reference, eight hours is their suggested limit for 85dB(A) noise exposure.) Marcus, from headphones.com.au provide more generous figures, suggesting longer listening times are safe. He does work for a company that sell loud things you put on your ears, but I guess it is in his best interest to keep you hearing for as long as possible…

The Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, have recognised that noise levels whilst riding a motorcycle can be very high. Their research was carried out both in a wind tunnel and on the road. The provided measurements were hardly exhaustive, but they noted that different helmets and different motorcycles all affected the noise levels achieved. This included the revelation that particular helmets could be good or bad, depending on what model bike was being ridden. (This gives me hope, as my previous helmet started its active duty whilst I was riding my previous motorcycle!) :-)

A provided graph showed that if you discount illegal road use (i.e. over 110kph or around 70mph) the quietest scenario was in riding a BMW K1100LT with the adjustable screen up. Even it came in at around 88db(A) meaning it shouldn’t be ridden for more than around four hours. The simplest practical answer to reducing the volume of noise you are subjected to is by wearing ear-plugs.

If you have never considered wearing ear plugs before, I recommend you get several pairs of differing styles. There are different density foams as well as “putty” like materials that mould and shape in your ears. For my liking, I can’t go past simple foam plugs that are available in chemists. Even cheap foam ear plugs reduce the volume by around the 26 to 33 db(A) mark, It may take you some getting used to the feeling of foreign objects in your ears, but the long term benefits far outweigh this initial “unnatural” feel.

Some riders prefer to listen to music via an MP3 player fitted with ear-bud speakers. But, these in turn have to produce volume louder than the wind-noise generated by the helmet. Ear-bud speakers may look trendy in the Apple advertisements, but quite simply they are capable of loud volumes and therefore are dangerous to your long term hearing ability.

If you do want to listen to music on the motorbike, I’d suggest you look at spending some serious money and get a quality set of “canal-phones” that block outside noise allowing you to use lower volumes. Just remember that there are reports that ear-buds (and presumably “canal” style headphones) can be capable of producing in excess of 110db(A).

For my money, the 70 cents or so I spend on a set of ear plugs are the simplest way I can improve the quality of my ride whilst doing something good for my long term health and quality of life.

Are you wearing a helmet?

If you live in a “western country” outside of the United States, you are probably required by law to wear a motorcycle helmet when riding a motorcycle. Australia is no exception to this rule. In Australia, this helmet must comply with Australian Standards AS 1698.

Let me state upfront: I have not read AS 1698. I am not a lazy person, but from my “Internet research” it appears reading standards is not a right of all, unless they wield a credit card… Besides, it wasn’t actually AS 1698 that interested me for the sake of this post.

From my understanding of AS 1698 and various reading I have done over time on the standards, it’s one of the better standards motorcycle helmets are tested against. It includes an element of destructive testing which (from memory) includes “batch testing”. In other words, it isn’t a “pass once and you are free to sell all you want” standard.

The standard covers all sorts of aspects – some fairly obvious, some less so. Things like:

  • How much energy the helmet is capable of absorbing. (In other words, making sure your head isn’t subjected to a 300G impact.)
  • Making sure a three kilogram spike does not penetrate the shell.
  • Testing that the strap adequately holds the helmet to your head.
  • Ensuring that the helmet permits a suitable range of peripheral vision.

In the eyes of the law, if your helmet does not have the official AS 1698 sticker, you are not wearing a helmet! So, if you feel the really cool graphics of your helmet clash with the sticker: “suck it up, buddy!”. But as I said earlier, AS 1698 is not what this post is all about.

I want to blog about AS 1609. This is the standard that covers motorcycle helmet visors (and other things like visors for race car drivers). Like AS 1698, if your visor does not feature the standard’s sticker, you are considered to not be wearing a helmet. This standard too, has its intentions on protecting the wearer. As such it features things such as protection against corrosive materials, stability of the material at adverse temperature ranges, strength of the material and optical clarity.

Put simply, it is the last point that I take issue with. It’s not like I ride around with my eyes shut – so optical clarity is important to me too. But currently, there are no tinted visor sold in Australia that pass this standard. But what aspect of the standard do they violate? If it’s the optical clarity – then I can live with that. I always carry a clear visor with me (complete with AS 1609 sticker!) Modern helmets make light work of changing visors, so the inconvenience of travelling with a bum-bag is something I can live with. I am not so sure I want to ride with a visor that may shatter if it is struck by a small stone. The standard is too encompassing. It is my opinion that it would be better for visors to pass two standards – one dealing with strength and another to do with optical clarity. It would be more informative to the wearer than this leaflet that came with a tinted visor I recently purchased:

Blanket disclaimer of unsuitability

So, when riding in sunny conditions, what are your choices? The way I see it, you have three:

  1. Wear sunglasses and use a clear visor. I used to do this a lot and don’t recommend it. Helmets don’t accommodate glasses particularly well. If you need to wear prescription glasses, make sure you test the helmet fit and comfort when wearing them, prior to purchase. The other reason I don’t recommend wearing sunglasses is that if they are not a well-fitting pair of wrap-around glasses, there is the chance for sunlight to get in behind the lenses. When this occurs, all you tend to see is your eyeball staring back at you! This is mildly disconcerting at the best of times and inappropriately distracting whilst travelling on a motorcycle.
  2. Squint. What would those optometrists know anyway? This raises another point. Sunglasses sold in Australia pass yet another Australian Standard: AS 1067. Maybe tinted visors should be subject to this standard conformance too?
  3. Break the law. Ride with a tinted visor… you rebel, you!

Technically, even though I carry a clear visor with me I am breaking the law by wearing a helmet fitted with a tinted visor. At times I have been booked or pulled over for random breath testing / licence checks whilst wearing a helmet fitted with a non-approved visor and I have yet to come across an officer who has even commented on it. Put simply, police officers are people too and are quite capable of applying common sense. If you are riding in conditions where “optical clarity” is unlikely to be an issue, I suspect it would take a fair degree of provocation on your part to provoke the officer into handing over a ticket for not wearing an approved helmet… But don’t count on it!

If you are riding at night or in dimly lit conditions, you can probably expect less favourable behaviour from a police officer, even if you are riding with the visor up, as Jeff Anderson found out:

…I was recently pulled over for wearing my tinted visor at night. The visor was up and not in use as it reduces vision. the officer said that it was illegal even though it wasn’t in use…

Jeff was writing on a forum which featured a section where you could ask an “an active serving motorcycle police officer. Interestingly enough in the response “Hubie” (the aforementioned police officer) mentions a rumour of an upcoming photochromic lens style visor, which is expected to pass the Australian standards testing. I can’t imagine that one will be cheap!
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